Back pain is one of the most common ailments and it almost always comes with inflammation. It can occur as a result of an injury, poor posture, a too-soft mattress, or improper sleeping position. Luckily, there are ways that inflammation can be remedied. Lifestyle and diet modifications, like adopting a Mediterranean Diet, or eating a plant-based diet, often helps to reduce inflammation in the spine and joints by decreasing pro-inflammatory foods and adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet.
Inflammation can be triggered by what we eat. Some examples of food that may increase or trigger inflammation, also known as pro-inflammatory foods, are:
- Saturated fats – red meat (especially grain fed animals) and whole fat dairy
- Trans fats – hydrogenated oils seen in baked goods/crackers
- Omega 6 – corn oil, safflower oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil
- Sugar – table sugar and other simple carbohydrates such as cake, white rice and bread
Eating a well-balanced diet comprised of a variety of whole, colorful foods can help reduce inflammatory markers. Some examples of anti-inflammatory foods are:
- Omega 3 – canola oil, walnuts, fish
- Monounsaturated fats – olive oil, peanut oil, nuts, avocado
- Fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Herbs, spices and teas – ginger, turmeric, oregano, sage, cinnamon, cloves, rosemary and green tea
When selecting food to eat, think about including all the colors of the “rainbow” in your shopping cart. Not only will eating these foods provide anti-inflammatory benefits, but they’ll also increase your intake of vital antioxidants. Here’s our starter guide to anti-inflammatory foods to try and how you can incorporate them into meals:
Avocados are high in monounsaturated fat. They can help to decrease inflammation of the joints and are good for brain health including neurogenerative diseases.
Meal idea: Eggs with avocado over whole grain toast
- Fatty fish
Fish such as sardines, salmon, anchovies and mackerel are high in omega 3 fatty acids. Since we don’t make omega 3 in our bodies, we must get it from food sources. Nutrients found in these fish can help with autoimmune disorders, diabetes and brain health.
Meal ideas: Salmon burgers, smoked salmon, sardines over salad
- Cruciferous vegetables
Veggies like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussel sprouts are high in phytochemicals, antioxidants, vitamin K, vitamin C, magnesium, and fiber. Broccoli in particular helps to protect against cancer and decrease inflammation.
Meal ideas: Broccoli salad, steamed broccoli, cauliflower rice
Garlic helps combat damage caused by free radicals. Free radicals are unstable atoms that can damage cells, causing illness and aging. Garlic also contains quercetin which may help protect against heart disease and cancer as well as stimulate the immune system to fight diseases.
Meal ideas: Shrimp in garlic sauce, sautéed garlic with swiss chard
Ginger helps to decrease pain and inflammation by “turning off” pain receptors. Ginger also improves gut immunity.
Meal ideas: Scallops with ginger, ginger soup, ginger tea
- Flax and chia seeds
These seeds are high in fiber and omega 3’s and can help balance blood sugar levels, improve gut health and fight free radicals.
Meal ideas: Add to shakes, yogurt, and salads
Berries contain anthocyanins which act as antioxidants to help fight free radicals and may offer anti-inflammatory, anti-viral and cancer-fighting benefits.
Meal ideas: Add to shakes, yogurt, and salads, or have on their own as a snack
Nicole Drepaniotis, MBA, MS, RDN, CSOWM, CDN, is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Nutrition Education Coordinator in Mather Hospital’s Center of Excellence in Metabolic & Bariatric Surgery.